MQ–8 Fire Scout (MQ-8B/C)

Product Type:

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

Using Service (US):


Program Status:

MQ-8B: Sustainment
MQ-8C: In Production

Prime Contractor:

Northrop Grumman Corporation

The MQ–8 Fire Scout

About the MQ-8 Fire Scout:

The Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout is an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) vertical take-off and landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV). The Fire Scout provides real-time and non-real-time ISR data to tactical users. The baseline MQ-8 can accomplish missions including over-the-horizon (OTH) tactical reconnaissance, classification, targeting and laser designation, and battle management (including communications relay).

A deployed MQ-8 system is comprised of the air vehicle, payloads (i.e. electro-optical/infra-red/laser designator-range finder, Automated Identification System, communications relay, radar, weapons, and other specialty payloads), Mission Control Station (MCS) - with Tactical Control System (TCS) and Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) integrated for interoperability, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Common Automatic Recovery Systems (UCARS) for automatic take-off and landings, and associated spares and support equipment. A limited number of land-based mission control stations supplement the shipboard systems to support shore based operations, such as pre-deployment or acceptance functional check flights. These land based mission control stations will also support depot level maintenance/post-maintenance activities.

The MQ-8B Fire Scout has a four-bladed rotor and is powered by a single Rolls-Royce M250-C20W turboshaft engine (the M250-C47B/E powers the MQ-8C) and launches and recovers vertically, and can operate from air-capable vessels such as the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), as well as confined area land bases. Interoperability is achieved through the use of TCS software in the ground control station, and through the use of the TCDL.

The MQ-8B is capable of continuous operations providing coverage as much as 110 nautical miles (127 miles/204 km) from the launch site. The baseline configuration with a FLIR Systems BRITE Star II EO/IR sensor payload and a laser pointer/laser rangefinder, enables the Fire Scout to locate, track, and designate tactical targets in support of Navy strike platforms.

The MQ-8B was developed from the RQ-8A Fire Scout VUAS, which was based on the Schweizer Model 333 manned commercial helicopter. In February 2000, Northrop Grumman won the contract to develop the RQ-8A for the U.S. Navy under the VTUAV program. Low-rate initial production commenced in May 2001 and flight testing began the following year. In August 2005, the Fire Scout was redesignated from RQ-8 to MQ-8 to reflect its multi-role capability. The MQ-8B made its first flight on December 18, 2006.

The MQ-8 industry team includes Cubic Corporation (communications), FLIR Systems (BRITE Star II EO/IR payload / Star SAFIRE III EO/IR/LRF payload), Telephonics (RDR-1700B Maritime Radar), BAE Systems (COBRA mine detection payload), General Electric Fanuc Intelligent Platforms (vehicle management computer), Kearfott (guidance and navigation), Lockheed Martin (ship integration), Raytheon Company (Tactical Control System), Rockwell Collins – avionics Rolls-Royce (engine), Sierra Nevada Corporation (unmanned common automatic recovery system), and Schweizer Aircraft Corporation - now Sikorsky Military Completions Center (airframe).

On April 23, 2012, Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract to build a minimum of 28 new MQ-8C Fire Scout UAVs (aka Fire-X Endurance) based on the proven Bell 407 airframe. According to Northrop Grumman, as of September 2015, there are over 1,100 Bell 407s in service and the helicopter has accumulated more than 4 million flight hours. The new 'C' variant provides greater range, endurance and payload capacity. Under the terms of the contract, Northrop Grumman will produce a total of eight UAVs for an amount not to exceed $262 million. Final assembly of the new MQ-8C variant will take place at Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Mississippi.

On October 31, 2013, the MQ-8C made its first flight at Naval Base Ventura County in California. The MQ-8C is approximately 41.4 feet long (9.7 feet longer than the MQ-8B variant) and has a cruise speed of 161 mph, (34 mph faster that the MQ-8B). The MQ-8C has an endurance of up to 14 hours, which compares to 8 hours for the MQ-8B. The MQ-8C has an internal payload capacity of 1,000 pounds compared to the MQ-8B's 600 pounds. Also, the MQ-8C has a maximum sling load capacity of 2,650 pounds. On December 3, 2014, Northrop Grumman announced the delivery of the first operational MQ-8C Fire Scout to the Navy.

In August 2015, Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy successfully demonstrated the endurance capabilities of the MQ-8C Fire Scout. On a planned 10+ hour flight from Naval Base Ventura County, the MQ-8C achieved 11 hours with more than an hour of fuel in reserve.

The Navy plans to purchase a total of 119 MQ-8 production units through FY 2032. Of this figure, 23 are MQ-8Bs purchased during FYs 2007-2011. The remaining 96 are MQ-8C models.



Price/Unit Cost:

The unit cost of the MQ-8C is $29.93 million in FY 2016 (flyaway cost) of which the airframe makes up $16.99 million. In comparison, the MQ-8B had a unit cost of $10.81 million in FY 2011.

Total Cost - Life of Program (LoP):

The total procurement cost of the MQ-8 VTUAV program is $2.67 billion (estimated by the DoD) + $0.80 billion in research and development (RDT&E) funds, which means the total estimated program cost is $3.47 billion (numbers are aggregated annual funds spent over the life of the program and no price/inflation adjustment was made).


Provides real-time and non real-time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) data to tactical users without the use of manned aircraft. The MQ-8 locates, tracks and designates tactical targets in support of Navy strike platforms. Also, the Fire Scout performs battle damage assessment missions.

FY 2015 DoD Program:

FY 2015 fully funds 5 MQ-8C air vehicles and ancillary equipment.

FY 2016 DoD Program:

FY 2016 fully funds 2 MQ-8C air vehicles; ancillary equipment such as Mission Control Station (MCS), UCARs, special payloads, and shipboard TCDL systems; Peculiar Training Equipment; Peculiar support equipment for airframe and avionics requirements; Production engineering support for production line technology insertion; and logistics production reach back, depot standup, technical publications, and government logistics support requirements necessary to field the MQ-8 system.

For more information, click to see the FY 2016 Navy MQ-8 Procurement Budget.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Northrop Grumman Corp., Rolls-Royce,
FLIR Systems, and Telephonics.

Specifications Armament DoD Spending FY2016 Budget

Last Update: September 20, 2015.

By Joakim Kasper Oestergaard Balle /// (

External Resources:

Northrop Grumman: MQ-8 Fire Scout
Telephonics: RDR-1700B Maritime Radar

FLIR Systems: BRITE Star II Sensor Payload
FLIR Systems: Star SAFIRE III Sensor Payload

YouTube: MQ-8 Fire Scout | YouTube Videos

Fact Sheet: MQ-8B Fire Scout | Fact Sheet
Fact Sheet: MQ-8C Fire Scout | Fact Sheet
Brochure: MQ-8B Fire Scout | Brochure

Total MQ-8 VTUAV Program Cost:

 $3.47 billion  ($2.67B procurement + $0.80B RDT&E)

MQ-8 VTUAV Procurement Objective:

  126 aircraft  (119 production + 7 development)

MQ-8 U.S. Defense Budget Charts:

DoD Spending on the MQ-8 Fire Scout in FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2014, FY 2015 and FY 2016
DoD Purchases of MQ-8 Fire Scout UAVs in FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2014, FY 2015 and FY 2016
Defense Budget Data

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DoD Spending, Procurement and RDT&E: FY 2012/13/14 + Budget for FYs 2015 + 2016

DoD Defense Spending, Procurement, Modifications, Spares, and RDT&E for the MQ–8 Fire Scout

Download Official U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Budget Data:

MQ–8 Purchases (NAVY) MQ-8 Modifications (NAVY) RDT&E: MQ-8 (NAVY)
MQ-8 Purchases (FY 2015-SOCOM) Aircraft Spares and Parts (NAVY) RDT&E: MQ-8C (NAVY)

Aircraft Specifications: MQ–8 VTUAV

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Aircraft Specifications | MQ-8B Fire Scout

Primary Function: Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR)
Prime Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corp.
Power Plant: 1x Rolls-Royce M250-C20W turboshaft engine
Length: 31.7 ft (9.66 m)
Height: 9.7 ft (2.96 m)
Rotor Diameter: 27.5 ft (8.4 m)
Width: Fuselage: 6.2 ft (1.89 m)
Weight: Zero fuel weight: 2,073 lbs (940 kg)
Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW): 3,150 lbs (1,429 kg)
Payload: 600 lbs (272 kg) including electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor and laser designator
Sensors & Equipment:
Telephonics (Griffon) RDR-1700B Maritime Radar
FLIR Systems Star SAFIRE III EO/IR/LRF gimbaled sensor payload
FLIR Systems EO/IR BRITE Star II gimbaled sensor payload (baseline)
UHF/VHF Communications Relay
BAE Systems COBRA Mine Detector
Airborne Communications Package
Speed: Cruise: 80 kts/92 mph (148 km/h) Max: 115 kts/132 mph (213 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 12,500 ft (3,810 m)
Range: 110 nm/127 miles (204 km)
Endurance: w/300 lbs payload: 5.5 hrs
Armament/Weapons: None
Price/Unit Cost: $10.81 million (in FY 2011)
First Flight: RQ-8A: 2002; MQ-8B: December 18, 2006
Deployed: September 2009

Aircraft Specifications | MQ-8C Fire Scout

Primary Function: Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR)
Prime Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corp.
Power Plant: 1x Rolls-Royce M250-C47B/E turboshaft engine
Length: 41.4 ft (12.62 m)
Height: 10.9 ft (3.32 m)
Rotor Diameter: 35.0 ft (10.67 m)
Width: Fuselage: 7.8 ft (2.38 m)
Weight: Zero fuel weight: 3,200 lbs (1,452 kg)
Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW): 6,000 lbs (2,721 kg)
Payload: Max. internal 1,000 lbs (454 kg)
Max. external (sling load) 2,650 lbs (1,202 kg)
Typical Payload 600 lbs (272 kg) => 11 hrs endurance
Sensors & Equipment:
Surface search; Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR); inverse SAR; Electronic Warfare (EW) capability
Speed: Cruise: 115 kts/132 mph (213 km/h); Max: 140 kts/161 mph (259 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 16,000 ft (4,877 m)
Range: 150 nm/173 miles (278 km)
Endurance: 14 hrs maximum; max. w/300 lbs payload: 12 hrs
Armament/Weapons: None
Price/Unit Cost: $29.93 million (in FY 2016)
First Flight: October 31, 2013
Deployed: Scheduled for 2016

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